Arts & Culture

Wichita Symphony Orchestra showcases hometown talent

Mark Foley has been principal double bassist with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra for 30 years.
Mark Foley has been principal double bassist with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra for 30 years. Photo courtesy of Justin Cary

The Wichita Symphony Orchestra decided to follow the old adage “There’s no place like home” for its first Classics concert. From performing an original work by a Wichita composer to unusual solo pieces – timpani and double bass – by symphony principals, to the youth symphony coming on stage for two classics, the symphony is creating a musical feast that celebrates the talent pool that resides in Wichita.

Award-winning composer Walter Mays’ short work “Moon Dances: Three Native American Sketches for Orchestra” will help celebrate the orchestra’s 71st season. The composition was inspired by songs and legends of the Mandan tribe. This will be the first time the symphony has performed one of Mays’ pieces. Mays, who teaches music theory and composition at Wichita State University, is known internationally for his compositions.

“Mays’ music is very accessible and quite beautiful,” said Daniel Hege, the orchestra’s conductor and music director.

Like the Mays piece, most of the other works for the evening will run between 10 and 20 minutes in length. This way, Hege said, the concert will move along at a quick pace and offer a variety of styles.

Principal percussionist Gerald Scholl will perform “Raise the Roof” by Michael Daugherty. Scholl, who has been with the Wichita symphony for more than a decade, has performed as a soloist and jazz and chamber musician worldwide. A professor of percussion at WSU, Scholl is always looking at new ways to bring new works with interesting textures to his audiences. Although Scholl loves rhythm, his heart is in playing the melody.

“This concerto gives me the best of both worlds,” Scholl said. “The composer explores melodic styles from Gregorian chant to Latin jazz and even a little West Indian classical. It may seem like an unlikely pairing, but it works extremely well.”

For Scholl, who picked up the drumsticks when he was in fourth grade, playing with a variety of instruments, as well as sticks, is important. For this number, the New England Conservatory-trained musician will use the conga, brushes and maracas.

“There’s no question that this is one of the most virtuosic and highly intense rhythmic pieces written for timpani and orchestra,” Scholl said. “I think the biggest surprise for the audience is to hear the melodic possibilities that the timpani are capable of.”

Mark Foley, the other soloist for this concert, has been principal double bassist at the symphony for 30 years. He, like Scholl, is a professor at WSU. Trained at the Eastman School of Music, Foley was late in coming to the double bass. Although he played piano starting at age 5 and trombone for his Minnesota high school marching band, Foley did not become mesmerized by music until he started playing the electric bass.

But it was hearing Beethoven that made him pick the double bass and major in music in college. Foley is always exploring different types of music. Nino Rota’s “Divertimento for Double Bass and Orchestra” is one of his favorites.

“It is very Italian, steeped in the comic opera tradition,” Foley said. It is “sometimes humorous, sometimes mock-serious. It shows off my instrument well: very lyrical, lots of character, clever orchestration, sometimes virtuosic. It’s incredibly fun to play. It’s just brilliant.”

Rota, best known for his compositions for “The Godfather” and famous Fellini scores, uses some very fast figures in this piece that encompasses the full range of the instrument in a cinematic way.

But two soloists and one local composer are not enough local for the Wichita Symphony Orchestra. It decided to invite its elite youth orchestra to join the musicians on stage. Each adult and youth orchestra member will play side by side and share a music stand. The concertmaster of the youth symphony will stand next to John Harrison, the Wichita Symphony Orchestra’s concertmaster.

“Playing with the youth symphony is always an amazing experience,” Foley said. “The sound and the energy coming from the young players is just outstanding. There’s a fire about them.”

The combined orchestras will feature more than 150 musicians. The double symphony will perform Johannes Brahms’ “Academic Festival Overture” and Hector Berlioz’s “Roman Carnival Overture.”

“It’s great to see their enthusiasm and their idealism,” Hege said. “It’s great to show education in this way.”

If you go

The Wichita Symphony Orchestra presents Hometown Favorites

Special guests: Gerald Scholl, Mark Foley and the Wichita Youth Symphony (for the last two pieces)

Where: Century II Concert Hall, 225 W. Douglas

When: 8 p.m. Oct. 11; 3 p.m. Oct. 12

Tickets: $19-$57, 316-267-5259, www.wichitasymphony.org

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